Kathmandu (Pt 4)

February 22nd, 2017

We have mentioned in previous posts about our walks through the city.  We have really enjoyed exploring the winding streets and ordinary life.  These photos are some of our favorites from our walks.

 

Kathmandu (Pt 3)

February 21st, 2017

We had one day out of the city as we climbed Champa Devi, height of 2278 metres (7473 feet).  It is named for the goddess Devi.  The path was mostly rocky and wound up and down several peaks.  It was a hard climb for us who have had no exercise for a year!  But it was a great day.  Again we could not see far because of the extreme pollution.  Our host said that in clear season you can see most of the Kathmandu Valley and to the foothills of Everest.  Our B & B host and daughter took us on the hike.

We want to conclude these blogs about Kathmandu with miscellaneous photos.  (There will be one more blog!)  Sally Jo celebrated her birthday and we had a dinner with some of the MCC people in the city.  They even provided a cake.  We stayed at a B & B for our 5 nights.  The grandmother is an excellent seamstress and the 14 year old daughter is a talented artist.

To be continued!

Kathmandu (Part 2)

February 20th, 2017

From the Thamel area (last post) we walked past the Kathmandu Durbar Square which was heavily damaged in the 2015 earthquake.  We could see that previously it was an impressive area.   (“Durbar” refers to a term used for the place where Indian Kings and other rulers held formal and informal meetings.  There are three main Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu area, all of which are World Heritage sites.  Kathmandu Durbar, Patan Durbar, and Bhaktapur Durbar)

Another day we walked to Patan Durbar Square.  Again fascinating scenes along the way and many religious sites.  Much of the architecture in Patan Square is from the 1600s but historians know that the place was a more ancient crossroad.  The city itself is a center of both Hinduism and Buddhism with 136 religious courtyards and 55 major temples—most within the Square.  Here we saw a lot of reconstruction from the earthquake.

We visited the architectural museum in part of the old palace.

A good museum is located in another part of the old palace and we spent time there also.

We visited the Golden Temple, a Buddhist temple from the 15th century not far from the Patan Square. It is a Newari Buddhist monastery.  (Newari are the original inhabitants of Kathmandu valley.)  The “gold” is mostly polished brass but is beautiful.  Two large lions guard the entrance and two large brass elephants guard the temple area.  There are small brass monkeys holding jackfruit as offerings as well as many other artifacts and the statue of Buddha and other gods.

To be continued!

Kathmandu (Part 1)

February 19th, 2017

A new city, a new country.  Fascinating people, history, and scenery.  We are able to sample only a small part of Kathmandu and an even tinier fraction of the country of Nepal in our 12 days here.  We spent the first 5 days in the city on our own as tourists.  We visited many, many temples, walked miles and miles of winding busy and quiet streets, and saw lots of damage – and repairs — from the 2015 earthquake.

The first temple we saw was one of the largest and is a World Heritage Site — Swayambhunath Temple or commonly known as monkey temple because there are many monkeys living in parts of the temple.  We climbed the 365 steps to the top.  At the bottom of the steps is a brightly painted gate and a very large prayer wheel.  There are three painted Buddha statues from the 17th century at the beginning and part way up are three more Buddha statues from the 20th century.  Along the stairs are carvings and stones with Tibetan mantras.

The temple complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, a Tibetan monastery, museum and library.  The stupa has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on.  Wikipedia says this about some of the symbolism of the stupa:

The dome at the base represents the entire world. When a person awakes (represented by eyes of wisdom and compassion) from the bonds of the world, the person reaches the state of enlightenment. The thirteen pinnacles on the top symbolize [the feelings that humans have to go through] … of spiritual realizations to reach enlightenment ….

There is a large pair of eyes on each of the four sides of the main stupa which represent Wisdom and Compassion. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye. It is said that when Buddha preaches, cosmic rays emanate from the third eye which act as messages to heavenly beings, so that those interested can come down to earth to listen to the Buddha.

The yellow paint that you see in the photo, represents petals of a lotus flower.  According to mythology, the valley was filled with water out of which grew lotus.   A gorge was cut to drain the water so that the land could be used for settlement.  The lotus was transformed into a hill, and the flower became the stupa.   (Science has found evidence that this valley was under water at one time.)  All in all it was a fascinating area.  Too bad that we could not see out from this hill.  We understand usually one can see mountains and the city of Kathmandu.  The dust pollution from dry season and construction has been particularly bad the last several months (so said our B&B host).

We walked from  Swayambhunath Temple to  the Thamel area along interesting and windy streets.  It seems that one cannot go more than 50 metres without seeing a temple, stupa, or other religious site.  We also recognized the great Tibetan influence.  We saw much that reminded us of our time in Lhasa in 2009.

We visited Kaathe Swyambhu ShreeGha Chaitya in the Thamel area.  This is a popular Tibetan pilgrimage site with the stupa a small copy of the great Sayambhunath complex we had just visited.  It has a busy courtyard.  To the side is a Tibetan monastery which has a lovely temple and a very large prayer bell.

To be continued!

 

Mymensingh & Bogra office visits

February 12th, 2017

We have mentioned before that MCC Bangladesh has three offices.  We are located in the Dhaka office and know the staff quite well.  We don’t see staff in the other offices often so made a trip this past week to visit individually with staff.  You can go to one of our first posts to see a map of where the three offices are located.  Our days were spent mostly in meeting individual staff members to learn about their joys and concerns.  So we took very few photos from that.

We did stop in on a peace training led by two MCC staff members.  This was TOT (training of trainers).  The participants will use the information as they work with young people in communities.  The group gave us a musical welcome.  (We have two good videos of the music but don’t have the software to reduce their size so that we can link them here.)  Their group work was to define “peace” and then share their ideas with the rest of the group.  Another activity was writing one’s name on a paper and passing the paper around the small group and each person wrote one good quality of that person.

We also met with another small group who run a women’s training center.  And in another office men were preparing posters for a crop training.

We love talking to the MCC staff and learning from them.  We also enjoy the many scenes along the way even though the trip is long.  (It was 4 ½ hours to Mymensingh, 5 ½ hours on to Bogra, and then 7 hours back to Dhaka!)

Saturday outing

February 9th, 2017

We visited several spots in Dhaka recently—University of Dhaka, National Museum of Bangladesh, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Museum.

At the university campus we visited a sculpture garden of many famous people in history and culture, including Gandhi, Tagore, and George Harrison.  There is also a sculpture of Asaduzzaman (sometimes spelled Asad), a student activist, who was killed by the police on January 20, 1969, when the Government repressed the pro-democracy and anti-autocracy movement. Some say that he was one of three martyrs of the 1969 uprising that set the stage for the liberation war.  I explain about him because the gate to Mohammedpur (our district in Dhaka) is Asad Gate, honoring the spot where he was killed.

We walked through some lovely flower gardens on campus and talked with some friendly boys.

Recently the Hindus celebrated Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning.  We saw the big statue created for this celebration on the campus of the university and we saw some of the smaller statues used that day.  Nearby was a statue of Buddha.

We visited the National Museum of Bangladesh.  We were impressed with the exhibits of history and culture.  Very well displayed – but no photography allowed.

We stopped by to see a monument to Mishuk Munier, Tareque Masud, and 3 companions who were killed in a road accident in 2011.   Munier was a famous cinematographer and Masum a famous filmmaker.  Their van was hit head-long on the road.  (We hear of too many of those accidents here.)

We visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Museum.  Sheikh Mujib Rahman is considered the Father of the Country.  The museum includes the home where he was assassinated on 15 August 1975.  Historically interesting—but again no photography allowed.  We are learning a lot of Bangladesh history!

Mumbai

November 15th, 2016

Flew to Mumbai for our last two days and stayed in a plush hotel.  We took two major bus tours to see the city.  It is another bustling city with beautiful British colonial architecture and the second largest slum area in Asia.  Contrasts.  Mumbai was seven swampy islands which are now connected by bridges and concrete.  It used to be known as Bombay (Portuguese “Bom Bahia” or Good Bay).  The name as reverted to Mumbai (Mumba-Ai “Mother Mumbai”) the eight-armed goddess worshiped by the fishermen, the original inhabitants.

Stopped at another Dhobi where laundry is done.  A larger area than Cochin.  Laundry men/women receive 5 rupee (8 cents)/piece of clothing.

Stopped briefly at Mumbai’s most famous landmark, Gateway of India.  It was getting towards night so didn’t see it close.  The Gateway was where  British governors and other prominent people landed.  Close by was the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where the 2008 bombing occurred.

Visited the Victoria Terminus Railway Station, Victorian Gothic architecture.  It was named for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.  Over 1,000 trains and two million passengers pass through the station daily.

Stopped at a flower market.

Several days before, the Indian Prime Minister announced one night that as of the next morning 500 and 1000 rupee notes were no longer accepted. (65 rupees = $1) He was trying to weed out “black money” and counterfeit money.  People had 10 days in which they could exchange the old notes for new notes.  (If interested, we could talk and explain more about this.)  We were lucky that our guide helped us exchange our notes. However, we saw lines a block long at many banks as people tried to get exchanges.  Banks ran out of notes, ATMs ran out of notes.  People couldn’t buy because businesses wouldn’t accept the old notes.  It might be compared to the U.S. saying overnight that $5 and $10 notes were no longer valid.  And India is a cash society.

We visited a home where Gandhi lived for 17 years.

We strolled through a fascinating flea market.

We found it interesting that there was beautiful British colonial architecture but our guide never stopped  to let us take photos of that.  But she did stop and told us to take photos of the slum area. She did want us to photograph the most expensive house in Mumbai – home of Mukesh Ambani ranked by Forbes as the ninth wealthiest person in the world.  Bobby Jindal is a relative.  A city of contrasts!

 

Cochin

November 14th, 2016

Left the houseboat and drove along the coast through fishing villages to a fish market.  The fish were brought in on small boats.  Some fish were sold immediately to individuals and others were sold to a large company, packed in crates with ice, and put on a truck to be taken to towns.  Lively place.

We had lunch near an old fort area that had first been Portuguese, then Dutch, then British.  We visited the nearby old (1503) St Francis Church—originally Catholic, then Orthodox, and then Anglican.  The inside looks like an upside down ship.  It was the original burial place of Vasco da Gama.  (His body was later taken to Lisbon.)  We stood outside the church as our guide giving the history of the area.  Sally Jo turned to look at something and saw a snake slithering fast towards us.  She yelled! The snake went over a tour member’s foot and around the ankle of another as she was dancing.  Another member jumped and fell.  We presented quite a sight for the locals!  It was not a harmful snake and finally slithered off in to the grass.  (Too much excitement for actual photos, but the experience is imprinted on our minds!)

In the evening we attended a Kerala dance.  Loved it.  There were only two actors.  They were on stage before the show putting on their make-up.  They used very heavy bright colors.  We also visited their dressing room as they were putting on their costumes.  The first half hour was an explanation of the dance—use of eyes, forehead, face, hand movements.  The performance was only half hour long but very interesting.  Reminded us a bit of what we think of Kabuki.  Someone else compared it to Charlie Chapman!  The male figure had a large headdress which they said weighed 40 pounds!

Boat tour of the harbor area with many fishing and navy boats and loading docks.  Also ferries.

We visited a dhobi – area set aside where laundry men/women wash, dry, and iron clothes for clients.

We visited Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica (1558).  An impressive, ornate and colorful church.

We also visited a Jewish synagogue in the Jewish area of town.  There are only five members remaining.

We stopped at a Coir Cooperative.  Coir is the production of turning coconut husks into mats and other products.  We saw the spinning and weaving.  They also dye the fiber but we were not allowed in that area.  Both men and women work in this industry which is prominent in the Kerala area.

Miscellaneous photos.  (The bat hit both electric wires and met its end.  However, we saw a number of these fruit bats flying.  Their wing span is 1 ½ -2 feet!)

Houseboat

November 13th, 2016

We flew to Cochin on the western coast of southern India.  We took a bus and then a tuk tuk to our houseboat.  It seemed as though we entered a new country.  Very few horns, less traffic, and greener environment.  We spent two wonderful nights and days traveling on a quiet river and lake, stopping to visit villages.  We saw a lot of bird life (not many photos) and lots of fishing boats.  We saw daily life of the people who live in this area.  During the first half day there were a number of other tourist houseboats but by afternoon of the first day there were only the two boats of our group.

Southern India has a larger population of Christians (20 %) as well as more Muslims (20%). Hindus make up only about 55%. Catholic churches are often topped by the India cross with a dove at the top and a lotus flower at the bottom.

We took several walks through villages.  The first day we were on the boat was U.S. election day.  We talked with a number of villagers about the election.  Others invited us in to their homes to see the incoming results on CNN.

One highlight during a village visit was riding the school bus.  We had walked quite a ways and were waiting for a local bus to ride back to the houseboat.  A school bus stopped and we joined it.  The children were so excited. The eyes of those that got on after us grew big and surprised when they got on!  Other times we saw school children on their way to school or on their way home.

Colorful homes and beautiful locations.  One noon we had a typical South Indian meal in this area—served on a banana leaf.  Good.  In fact, the food on the boat was great the whole time.

We saw a duck farm with several hundred ducks.  We disturbed two boatmen trying to herd their ducks to a special stop.  Rice has just been harvested so we saw rice being bagged and transported.

We found a man high in the coconut tree collecting juice.  The juice will be taken to a cooperative brewery and made into alcohol.  Later we tried some.

Visited the birth place of a local Catholic Saint—St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara born in 1805.  He founded the first Catholic school and became the first Indian to make the Profession of Religious vows.

One afternoon we came across a volleyball game and got some front row seats.  Another morning we came across a “pick-up” volleyball game the men were playing before they went to work.

Scenes from the boat.

Scenes in the villages.

 

Varanasi

November 11th, 2016

Varanasi, the holiest city of the Hindu faith.  Varanasi has also been known as Kashi, “the City of Light” or Benares.  It is situated on the west bank of the Ganges River with a spiritual and religious legacy that goes back nearly 3000 years.  It is the city of Shiva, the god of protection.

Upon arrival in late afternoon, we got in tuk-tuks and rode towards the river about 45 minutes.  Varanasi is crowded, dirty, noisy, and chaotic just as Agra.  After the ride we walked another half hour through crowded streets and alleyways.  We got on a boat and traveled to one of two cremation sites.  Varanasi is where cremation can take place 24 hours a day.  (Away from here, cremation is only done during the day.)  We saw bodies carried on pallets to the river to be splashed with holy water and then taken to a cremation site.  There were four or five fires going at the same time.  Our guide said the bodies burn for 2-3 hours.

We boated a bit far out in the river.  We were each given a light saucer.  We had a Brahma priest recite a Hindu prayer as we all mediated silently on our loved ones who have died.  We then put the candles in the water and watched them float away.  A holy moment.

We went up the river to a Hindu service being performed on a large open platform with seven priests.  Our guide said the priests were praying to the River Ganges on behalf of everyone.  There was a large crowd with many tourists.  We wound our way through the crowd till we walked right beside the platform.  Fascinating evening.

We returned early the next morning (5:30) to the river to participate in morning activities.  It was not quite as crowded.  We had head and neck massages.  Others had religious symbols painted on their foreheads.  We saw holy men praying with the person bringing the ashes of his relative which he will place in the river.   Some got haircuts.  Men bringing ashes for blessing shave their heads.  Some women also shave their heads after visiting the Ganges.  We saw a priest leading the morning prayer to the River.  Eventually, we got in a boat again and rowed up and down the river bank.  There is about four miles along the bank where many daily activities take place.  There are temples and shrines.  Daily bathing and laundry as well as yoga, religious rituals all take place.  The following day was a special day for mothers and we saw several groups of mothers and daughters together in the river.  We saw where the Beetles stayed.

In the afternoon we visited the site where Buddhism was started–Sarnath.  It was the site the Buddha preached his first sermon after becoming enlightened.  There was also a temple where the walls had paintings of Buddha’s life.

The last evening we had our farewell dinner. Women were dressed in saris and men in the white tops and pants.  We began with an hour sitar and drum concert – very good.